Will de Blasio’s Plan to End Homelessness Go Far Enough?

The city wants to reduce the shelter population.

Reducing the shelter population may be difficult.

Today, the de Blasio administration revealed more details of its plan to reduce homelessness during a City Council hearing on the Department of Homeless Services budget, outlining a series of steps the department plans to take, but little in the way of details as to how many people these programs can be expected to help and when.

Among the initiatives described at the hearing by Department of Homeless Services commissioner Gilbert Taylor is a plan to reintroduce a rental subsidy for homeless families, which would cost $80 million over four years, with half that amount coming from the state—funding which the de Blasio administration has not yet managed to secure.

Earlier this year, the city persuaded Governor Andrew Cuomo to remove a restriction that prohibited New York City from using state funds earmarked for homelessness for long-term housing, which cleared the way for such a program, but did not allocate any funding to it.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the proposed subsidy program would serve 801 families annually, for a total of 3,204 families over three years and would be targeted at families in which at least one parent is working 35 hours a week.

The program would be significantly smaller than the rental subsidy program that existed during some years of the Bloomberg administration and during its last year of existence served approximately 5,000 families. And today, a number of council members pushed the administration on whether such efforts would significantly reduce the homeless population given its overwhelming size—in January, shelter occupancy reached a new high of 53,615 people and Commissioner Taylor testified today that 10,357 families entered the shelter system in calendar year 2013.

The feeling among many council members seems to be that while they support the new direction the Department of Homeless Services has taken under de Blasio, they want to know that the initiatives will be far-reaching enough. And also to see more specific targets to better evaluate whether or not progress is being made.

“I am thrilled to see the efforts that DHS under your leadership have made, getting these programs in the budget, in the executive budget,” Councilman Stephen Levin said at the hearing, going on to add that “If we’re looking to reduce the shelter census, 10,000 is a number we could shoot for in any given year.”

“I can’t tell you that we’re going to reduce it by x-amount,” said Mr. Taylor. “But we are really thinking about the need for rental assistance. Thinking about ways we could fortify our homelessness prevention methods.”

Among the moves planned by the city is increasing funding for a homelessness prevention program called Homebase by $10.2 million beginning July 1. The budget will also increase funding for eviction protection services. The city plans to reform the HRA-administered Cash Assistance program as well, after discovering a link between families going through a sanction for non-compliance and becoming homeless.

City Council members also pressed Mr. Taylor on how many NYCHA and Section 8 units will be set aside for homeless families; Mr. Levin said under Mayor Rudy Giuliani 3,418 NYCHA units were set aside from the homeless and in the last year of the Bloomberg administration before they halted the practice, 3,600 were set aside.

Councilman Brad Lander said he would like to see at least 2,500 available NYCHA units set aside for homeless families, which would be approximately one-third of total units, the percentage that was previously set aside under Messrs. Giuliani and Bloomberg before preferential placements ended and the population boomed.

As Coalition for the Homeless executive director Mary Bronsnahan told the Observer earlier, while no one expected the number of homeless to dip immediately, advocates are optimistic that “by fall, we’d start to see a leveling off,” in the number of homeless, but that “at this point, the numbers are going to continue to pour in.”